Dear Cyber Rav,
I don’t know about you but I was pretty unhappy about Rick Warren’s benediction at the inauguration. I was heartened by the beginning of the prayer, and saw the inclusion of the Sh'ma as a somewhat ham-handed attempt at inclusiveness. But I was offended by the conclusion--the inclusion of the Lord's prayer and concluding in Jesus' name. Now I’ve been to a few interfaith gatherings over the years and it's understood that inclusion of either, in an interfaith context, is exclusivist. By the way—I know that the contents of the Lord's Prayer is not offensive to Jewish theology (and ought not to be offensive to Jews), but its authorship and associations make it a specifically Christian, and most people with interfaith sensitivity would not include it in an interfaith setting. Moreover, ditto for ending in Jesus' name.
Peeved by a Prayer
What I find far more difficult than listening to the name of Jesus in a prayer meant for a mixed group is the idea that I would either demand or expect Christians to modify their prayer for my sake. When prayer is offered with sincerity, even if it is not the words that I would choose or words that speak to me in my particular relationship with God, I find it impossible to be offended even if I am in some way excluded. We are, as Jews, different. We would all benefit from Jews who felt a little more distinctive and apart than forever trying to create communities where we are all the same, when in fact we are not. Rather than create common prayers that are acceptable to all, why not advocate an appreciation for the many different avenues by which God can be reached.
By the way, I LOVED that little inclusion of the Sh’ma at the beginning of his benediction. Pastor Rick didn’t have to do that, but he did, and he did it for the sake of the Jewish people—Kol haKavod, much honor is due him!
In short, I thought the pastor did a terrific job. As for all of the ways one can say Jesus, we might take a lesson from him. In an age when religion is more a choice than a fate, we ought to promote Judaism a little more assertively to all people in search of the truth, and due it in whatever language they best understand.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
The Cyber Rav