Rabbi David Baum's Statement about Shooting at AME Church, South Carolina

I have just returned from a professional development conference for Rabbis, and yesterday morning, surrounded by my colleagues, I had the honor of leading Musaf for Rosh Hodesh Tammuz, a month that contains the holiday of the 17th of Tammuz, a day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, eventually leading to the destruction of our Holy Temple. This week, a despicable human being in an act of hate and terrorism violated another faith's holy space.  During our prayer service, my colleagues and I read Tehillim/Psalms (our shared holy text) after Musaf, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters whose lives were taken and who those left who live in fear of their lives because of their skin color.  It was not just their space that was violated, but all of our holy spaces.

There is a debate in Judaism, should prayers be fixed or spontaneous?  Prayer in Judaism occurs three times a day, and there is a set text, giving us words that are often times hard to find to fully express ourselves on a daily basis.  However, there is often times a danger with repeating the same words over and over without thought.  Rabbi Shimon in the Ethics of Our Fathers states, "Be careful, when reciting the Shema and Amidah.  And when you pray, do not make your prayer rigid (Kevah), rather compassionate and pleading before God."  The Shulchan Aruch, a law code from the 1500's, states that 'one who is praying must feel in his heart the meaning of the words on his lips..." 

Every Shabbat at Shaarei Kodesh, a person is given the honor of reading 'A prayer for our Country'.  For thousands of years, Jews around the world have prayed for the welfare of the countries they have lived, mainly based on a quote from the prophet Jeremiah, "Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to Adonai on its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper."  As we think about the lands we have lived in during our time in the Diaspora, in no other country have Jews enjoyed more freedom and prosperity than in the United States of America.   

Most Shabbatot, I find myself saying these words by rote, without kavanah/intention, but kavanah/intention is needed.  Kavanah helps us actualize the words of this prayer:  "Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit.  May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country."  I view our churches, synagogues, and mosques, our country's diverse houses of worship, as among these vital institutions.  This week, a despicable man killed nine innocent people during a Bible study class which violated the sanctity of all of our institutions.  The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, built by the hands of former slaves, has stood as a beacon of hope and justice in South Carolina since the 1800's.  My colleague and friend Rabbi Menachem Creditor notes the following about the church: 

"The Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney spoke to doctoral students just this past February, at the very AME church where he was murdered last night, a church built in 1891, founded in 1818, from an experience of civil disobedience, when a black man was told that he could only pray after the "regular" parishioners did. This church was founded, in Pinckney's words, "upon the universal vision of all people being treated fairly under the law, as God sees us in [God's] sight."  This massacre occurred on the very anniversary of a failed slave revolt, led by Denmark Vesey, a rebellion that played a significant role in the African American liberation movement in South Carolina. Last night, that church that was torn by bullets. God's House and God's Images were torn. Violence is not God's path. (to read the entire article, please click here)

On this Shabbat, following this violation of God's holy name, I will let the words of this prayer for our country sink into my heart, surrounded by my community, and their beating hearts.  Together, we stand with our brothers and sisters in this great nation, and pray to that one day, hatred and bigotry will be banished our ideals and free institutions will be guarded and protected.

Let us all pray for our African American brothers and sisters in South Carolina and throughout our great country, and stand with them in solidarity against hatred, bigotry, and violence.  I urge you all to sign this letter to the mourning families of South Carolina, to let them know that we stand with them against hatred and bigotry:   CLICK HERE TO SIGN THIS IMPORTANT LETTER. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision."  

Let us hope our prayers not only reach God, but reach into our hearts so we can help heal a deeply fractured world. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum


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