Whenever I speak to a group that comes to my Temple to learn about Judaism, I begin by asking the participants to look around the sanctuary. I then ask if they have any questions about what they are seeing or what they do not see. What they are not seeing is found in the majority of synagogues in our country: flags.
There is not an American flag in Temple Sinai’s sanctuary. Nor is there an Israeli flag. That these flags do not adorn our sanctuary is a conscious choice. They were not here before I became Rabbi at Temple Sinai and flags have not been present in the other two congregations that I have served.
Why is this so? The answer for me is a simple one. I do not believe that the flag of any nation belongs in a synagogue.
The Torah says, “Build Me a sanctuary that I might dwell within.” That I, God, may dwell within. It does not say to build God a sanctuary so that a national philosophy may dwell within. No, it specifically tells us that God will dwell in the sanctuary — that God’s laws of justice and mercy are to dwell within our sanctuary.
This lesson seems particularly prescient given the war in Iraq and the turmoil here at home. Many people in my congregation have different opinions about the war. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the justness of this war, I am deeply disturbed by the playing of the “God card.”
More and more President Bush asserts that God is on our side; he asks that God continue to bless America. Hard as it may be to hear, God is not on our side. God is not on the Iraqi side. God is not part of this war.
We, the human being, through our freedom of choice given to us by God, have chosen to wage war after war. We, the human being, with the freedom of choice God gave us, have chosen to oppress others through the centuries.
Just as flags do not belong in our sanctuary, God does not belong in this war. We must not make this a religious war pitting one leader’s God against the other leader’s God.
The God that President Bush speaks of is not my God. He/she is not dressed in red, white and blue. The God of Saddam Hussein is not God. He/she is not dressed in the flag of Iraq.
No, my God is another kind of God. My God dwells in the sanctuary of Temple Sinai and in other houses of worship. My God teaches us songs of peace. My God realizes there is evil in the world and, yes, at times realizes we must fight to eradicate evil. However, ultimately, my God is a God who helps us make peace.
My God is a God who wants President Bush and Saddam Hussein to choose peace. May this — and only this — be God’s will in this war.
Rabbi Steven Chester has served as Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Oakland since 1989.