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Your rabbi has sinned

Religious professionals screw up in all sorts of ways. Forgive them.

I am talking about the myriad of daily sins, errors, missteps, screw ups, faux pas — that rabbis, cantors, educators, and other communal professionals commit on a daily basis.

Why? Because they are human.

Nevertheless, let me present a list of sins (of varying degrees) for which your rabbi might ask forgiveness on Yom Kippur.

I am presenting them as an acrostic — using one letter per sin — to imitate the traditional Hebrew way of enumerating sins.

For the sin that we have committed against you by:

Ashkecentrism. We speak and teach as if every Jew in our pews and classrooms had ancestors that came from Lodz or Hamburg. We think that every Jew can relate to “Fiddler on the Roof.” They don’t. Sephardic Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, Asian Jews…..remember them. Honor their culture, their stories, their languages, their foods.

Boring sermons and classes that could have been better had we simply come up with a few better examples, illustrations, and/or edgy ideas.

Convert shaming. Or, Jews-by-choice. Or, gerim. If I ever hear “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” again, I am going to puke.

Delegating inadequately. We cannot do it all. We have colleagues. We have leaders. They have gifts. Use those gifts.

Educating children inadequately. We actually have little choice in the matter. The amount of time that is available for Jewish education for our young people drops with every passing year. It’s not our fault. It is not even the parents’ fault. It is the whole system. We have to maximize opportunities to teach kids, wherever they are, whenever we can.

Forgetting your name. Again. Yes, we do that.  Especially (speaking personally), if I see you totally out of context. Yes, we care about you. But, sometimes, we get overwhelmed.

Generalizing about Judaism. You know this one: “Judaism says….” We need to speak about the nuances and historical development and even geographic differences.

Humor used badly. I can say this because I like to tell jokes. Be careful. The older the joke, the more ethnic it is, the less Jews are going to understand it.

Israel bashing. Because some of us really, really like to criticize Israel. In front of congregations that are actually powerless to do anything about it other than get angry.

Judging people rather than situations and ideas. It is too easy to say that Mrs. Horowitz is a bad person than to simply say “Mrs. Horowitz is making a bad decision here.”

Kissing up to the rich and beautiful. We all do it. In fact, it is actually part of the job — especially in larger congregations. As a Protestant minister and church consultant once said: “In large congregations, the senior minister basically pastors the board.” But, still, it should not be that obvious. 

Learning too little. Rabbis need to value ongoing learning. More important: congregations need to do so, as well. They should be demanding it.

Missing opportunities for hanging out with colleagues, especially Christian and Muslim colleagues. There are volumes to be learned here. And it is good for your soul.

Normalizing classism and sexism. Are our institutions truly serving everyone? Do women have equal voices? Do we quote women scholars and teachers adequately?

Organizing our time inadequately. Don’t get me started.

Preparing inadequately and winging it. Yeah, people can recognize it. Look, we all get overburdened at times — like, say, this time of year. Even still, have a message and deliver it. It doesn’t have to be profound every time.

Quietly protesting social injustice when we could have been louder. Name your issue. Figure out where your passion is. Turn up the volume.

Reducing Judaism to cliches, one liners, and bumper sticker ideology. “We are made in God’s image.” “Love the stranger.” “Repair the world.” Yeah. We get it. Say something new, and people will really wake up.

Sacrificing family time. See: organizing our time inadequately. I still regret the times when I should have been with my kids and could not be there. Or, so I thought. I probably could have, and I could have survived.

Taking unpopular positions. This is actually not a sin. Take the unpopular position. Just argue it from Jewish texts. Admit that you might be wrong. Go for it.

Using our institutions to merely promote ethnic solidarity, rather than serious, engaged Judaism. “Seinfeld Judaism” isn’t going to cut it much longer.

Vowel errors when reading the Torah. Oops. I did that.

Writing too little for publication. No, it is not everyone’s thing. Still, send a piece to your local newspaper. Your people will love it.

Xerxes, king of Persia, as opposed to Ahasuerus. That’s not really a sin. Call him as the book of Esther does — Ahasuerus. Just remember that he was probably Xerxes. Challenge your friends to come up with another word that has two Xes in it.

Youth, inadequate time with. Take your high school kids out for dinner once a month. No agenda. Pure hang out with rabbi. They will never forget it. Just the relationship with you will change their lives.

Zionism oversimplification. Especially when people criticize Zionism, we should remind them that there are many versions and voices within Zionism. Let’s express our love of Israel, however we choose to do it.


By the way, why do we use the alphabet (the Hebrew alphabet, actually) when we enumerate our sins?

Because if we didn’t, we would just keep on going — forever — and there would be no end of self-flagellation.

You might have other sins and flaws. That is fine.

But, a crucial note to lay leaders and boards and congregants.

Forgive your rabbis, cantors, educators, executive directors…..

They are doing their best, working with a very different Jewish community than most of them were trained to serve.

Cut them some slack.

And, yourselves, as well.