When Rabbi David Saperstein, longtime director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, addresses the community’s annual interfaith breakfast on Feb. 18, he will tell attendees that there is "an urgency, a need to have a religious voice" informing current debates on public policy.
"We’re dealing with genuinely tough moral choices," Saperstein told The Jewish Standard. "Our fundamental policy decisions pit one moral principle against another."
Saperstein noted, for example, that the need to preserve our national security must be weighed against the responsibility to protect civil liberties and the right to privacy. In addition, he said, we must work to ensure Israel’s security while respecting the rights of the Palestinians.
"There is also a need to ensure that the world is developed equitably for all its inhabitants while [striving] to preserve God’s environment," he said.
Saperstein, who has headed RAC for 33 years, is part of a large rabbinic family. According to the RAC Website, great uncles on both sides of his family were Reform rabbis, as were his father and uncle, and two great-grandfathers were Orthodox rabbis.
"The tradition of Jewish learning on both sides animated my existential decision to root my political thinking in Jewish history and values," said Saperstein, noting that he shares with his family a deep sense of having been called to be "partners in God’s mission and to take our Jewish responsibility seriously."
At the Feb. 18 event the ”nd annual interfaith breakfast for the Brotherhood-Sisterhood of Bergen County, hosted this year by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey through its Jewish Community Relations Council Saperstein will speak to local Jewish, Baha’i, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Sikh groups about "Shared Dimensions of Social Justice."
"Most major faith traditions share core beliefs about bringing justice into the world," he said, noting the importance of looking at policy decisions through the prism of "age-old moral values."
Dealing with these complex moral choices particularly at a time when we are called upon to select among political candidates requires that we "educate ourselves, testing ideas against each other," he said. "We must learn what the candidates say, listen to whatever truths they voice, and analyze their position," he said. But, in the end, "we must be prepared to make choices."
"The breakfast provides an important opportunity for different groups to come together and highlight the unity within our diversity," said Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC. "We get to break bread together and enhance our understanding and respect for one another, to see where both our commonalities and our differences lie."
The hope, she said, is that participants will be inspired to engage in "further and future engagements, broadening their horizons beyond their own faith community."
Saperstein, who is also an attorney, co-chairs the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty and serves on the boards of numerous national organizations, including the NAACP and People For the American Way. In addition, he teaches seminars in both First Amendment church-state law and in Jewish law at Georgetown University Law School and has written and spoken widely on these topics. His latest book, co-authored with Albert Vorspan, the former director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism and published by URJ Press, is "Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time."
The breakfast will be held at the Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe, 100 Frank W. Burr Blvd. For information, call (’01) 488-6800.