For our second offering, as we count the steps of the Omer from Egypt to Sinai, we are naturally drawn to the question of how best to help to implement the Torah’s vision of a just society. Does the Torah lay out a specific agenda, or only broad goals? And when, and how, should Jewish communal leaders speak out on political issues that transcend parochial Jewish interests?
Here is the selection:
Should Rabbis Speak Out On “Non-Jewish” Social Issues?
Wednesday, January 3, 1940
“I somehow could never accept Karl Marx's version of what he calls the class struggle. All I could see was that there are people who have power and those who lack it, but the former exploit the latter and are on the lookout for any signs of rebellion on the part of the exploited. But once in a while I cannot help being impressed with the reality of the class struggle. Ira [Eisenstein] and I have a difficult time with the few leading members of the SAJ because they sense that we are not in sympathy with the status quo. They sabotage the Reconstructionist because once in a while it comes out with an editorial attacking some flagrant evil of the present social order. The following are instances of what we have to put up with: …
Joseph Levy stated to me at one of the luncheons I had with him a couple of weeks ago, that the Reconstructionist had no right to attack Mayor Hague of Jersey City for keeping out the CIO from his city … . Joseph Levy said that the Reconstructionist should confine itself to matters of direct Jewish interest only, and that in our preaching and writing we should avoid dealing with specific evils, but try to uphold the general principles of ethics.” (Communings of the Spirit, Volume 2, pp. 199-200)
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Our first offering deals with religious observance, particularly with the Sabbath. Kaplan, from a traditional home, always took the tradition seriously, although he passionately wanted to make it relevant and functional. The “vote” in “The ancient authorities are entitled to a vote—but not to a veto” (Not So Random Thoughts, p. 263) was not merely rhetoric for him.
Here is the selection:
Conflicts about writing on the Sabbath
Saturday night, April 18, 1936
“Last night I wanted badly to write in this journal some of the things I had on my mind, but I could not get myself to do it. Some years ago I managed to overcome my scruples against writing on Sabbath, but I have not been able to develop complete equanimity with regard to writing on the Sabbath as I have developed, say, with regard to turning on the lights. Basically, I believe the main cause of the inhibition against writing on Sabbath is not any inherent objection on the ground that writing is not in consonance with the Sabbath spirit. On the contrary, affording me as it does spiritual pleasure, I should feel perfectly at ease about it. I think, therefore, that I have been inhibited mainly by the consideration that even those who are in sympathy with my views are under the impression that I do not write on the Sabbath. I therefore do not want to do anything in the privacy of my room which I would not do freely in their presence. The Rabbinic principle davar he-asur mi-shum marit ayin afilu be-hadrei hadarim asur [Heb., something which is forbidden because of appearances is forbidden even in the most private place] is undoubtedly valid from an ethical standpoint.” (Communings of the Spirit, Volume 2, pp. 71-72)