A Miami synagogue made news by cancelling a scheduled talk by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. She was scheduled to talk about Israel following Friday night services; a synagogue member, Stanley Tate, who happens to be co-chair of Mitt Romney’s campaign in Miami-Dade County, resigned from the synagogue when he learned ”he would not get an opportunity to offer a Republican rebuttal,” according to The Miami Herald.
This has led some to suggest that politicians have no place in a synagogue in the first place, and that such invites run afoul of IRS rules forbidding houses of worship from conducting partisan activities. In fact, the IRS allows churches to invite politicans if their talks are not intended to be political in nature; otherwise, they must invite all candidates to attend (for a helpful primer, see here).
(All this might come as news to the East Brunswick Jewish Center, which just hosted a town hall meeting with Chris Christie; Congregation Sons of Israel in Manalapan, which is hosting a talk by former Sen. Norman Coleman on behalf of the Republican Jewish Coalition; and the Pine Brook Jewish Center, where Newark Mayor Cory Booker will speak on June 10.)
Of course, asking a politician to give a non-political talk is like asking a baby to”just hold it in” until we get home. But do we really want to keep politicians out of the shul altogether? That would only make synagogues more detached from civic life than they already are. Surely this Miami synagogue could have found a way to invite Wasserman Shultz and signal to congregants and the outside world that they are non-partisan. (Synagogues shouldn’t presume political unanimity among their members.) The smartest thing would have been to couple the Wasserman Shultz invite with the announcement of an equally prominent Republican speaker at a later date.
As for the “rebuttal” format, that can be unwieldy — as well as redundant, if I know my fellow Jews.