Progressive Judaism: Why we can have our cake and eat it

Progressive Judaism: Why we can have our cake and eat it

Rabbi Malcolm Cohen
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

Progressive Judaism’s weekly opinion column

By Rabbi Malcolm CohenRabbi Malcolm Cohen

Some people ask why I’m so involved in social justice with non-Jewish organisations. There are many reasons, but chief among them is the prophets’ message, which rings in my ears every day. When guys like Amos are telling you “let justice rise up like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream”, I tend to listen. This is one of the most inspiring aspects of our heritage, men and women willing to stand up and say that society has problems that need solving.

No one else will do it, so we must.

I also look to the words of Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck. He was the leader of all German Jews under Nazi persecution and, in 1946, said: “Judaism must not stand aside when the great problems of humanity are at stake. We are Jews also for the sake of humanity”.

As Jews we must to be involved in the world, not removed from it. That’s why I’m involved in grassroots organisations around the Las Vegas valley. If we make the whole valley better it will also be better for the Jews.
Does this mean I neglect my Las Vegas congregation, because I’m off gallivanting on some quixotic mission? No.

We can have our social justice cake and eat it. We can service the Jewish and wider community through building relationships, which should be the core value of our congregations in any case.
I’m currently rallying my community around an important event, the Convention for the Common Good, for people in southern Nevada who want to tackle the big local issues. Some congregants still ask: “What about Jewish charities?”

I reassure them that working in the wider community does not have to be at the cost of looking after our own, reminding them of the social-justice sweet somethings that Amos and Micah whisper in our ear.
If Rabbi Dr Baeck told us to stand up for humanity, that’s good enough for me.

All of them will be by my side at the convention, their wizened and bearded faces smiling in recognition.

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