As this is my first contribution to this site, I begin by defining my role. I am a rabbi; I recognize that many think of rabbis as being clergy but it is not so. We have no special theological or ecclesiastical authority.
A rabbi is a teacher of the Jewish tradition. Judaism is a religious and cultural democracy that emphasizes the integrity and equality of all human beings; there is no hierarchy of religious leadership. I have joyously accepted the heavy but exhilarating burden of articulating and representing the finest of Jewish idealism and practice within the Jewish community.
Judaism is not simply a religion; the classical definition of religion sees this important part of our human experience as people's beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity as well as divine involvement in the universe and human life. While regional culture interjects itself into the rituals and customs of all faith practices, it must be admitted that there is no such thing as Catholic food, Islamic religious art nor Protestant language.
The Jewish people, after almost four millennia of existence, most of which has been in the political and social province of other peoples, has maintained its own unifying elements that go beyond theology. There are areas of daily activity, food, communal practices and language that are distinctively Jewish. Jewish life is a amalgam of ancient habits and modern adjustments that are distinctive and distinguishing. We are an ethnic group with its own ancient and honorably contributive religion.
Judaism, unlike those faiths that claim singular religious truths or a God-given mandate, is a religion with an open window that views other religious beliefs and ideologies with respect. The prophet Isaiah first enunciated the basic principle that accords, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:7)
Thousands of years ago, while attesting to the covenant of the Jewish people with their God, Judaism affirmed the authentic right of individuals and peoples to find their religious fulfillment outside of the faith of the Jewish people. “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods.” (Micah 4:5)
Judaism has a compelling interest in improving the lives of individuals, enhancing the welfare of our communities while participating with others of good will in the ever-difficult responsibility to make ours into a better world of mutual respect and peace.