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Albany Times Union -Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, director of Concerned Clergy for Choice, a multifaith advocacy group, and associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany.
Background: Ross was born in Brooklyn, graduated from Queens College and received a Master of Social Work at New York University. Ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion of the Reform movement in Manhattan, he has served congregations in New York, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts and taught bio-medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is married to Rabbi Deborah Zecher, who serves at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington, Mass., where they live. They have three children, Joshua, who works in musical theater, Adam, who lives in Israel, and Miriam, who is a senior at Clark University.
The title of your book "All Politics is Religious" is a play on Tip O'Neill's aphorism, "All politics is local." The book supports church-state separation. Don't you want a title that keeps the two apart?
All Americans, including religious people, have a right, really responsibility, to make their opinions known. But it is one thing to tell your elected officials what you think and another thing to demand that your religious point of view be made into the law, especially when it comes to religious restrictions, like those that would restrict same-gender relations, access to birth control or safe abortion. There is a difference between healthy, robust public dialogue that includes religious perspectives and codifying religious rules that take away rights or health care. Religion informs the debate, but it must not decide the issue.
Why did you write this book?
To give voice to religious ideas that often get lost in the fray. I also hope it helps people of faith find a way to have an honest yet respectful dialogue about controversial issues. Democracy thrives when we can have a good conversation about the issues that, at the same time, stays away from name calling and broad attacks, be it on the floor of Congress, at a town hall meeting or around the dinner table.
You are a congregational rabbi and you also work as an advocate. How do the two connect?
People reach out to clergy in times of need, especially when confronted by a medical decision, and we provide counsel, prayer and support. Like any clergy member, I carry the memory of those experiences with me always. In my advocacy work, we are urging passage of the Reproductive Health Act in New York state that would guarantee a woman can make her own personal, private health care decisions and get the care she needs, especially when her pregnancy threatens her health. In discussing legislation with lawmakers, I find that my experience as a pastor helps inform their position. They welcome Concerned Clergy for Choice whenever we are at the Capitol.
Many religious people disagree with you. How do you counter their arguments?
Religious people disagree about all kinds of things, including health care issues like the use of and access to birth control. Many of the religious groups represented in Concerned Clergy for Choice recognized the moral good in birth control some 80 years ago. This includes the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. So we need laws that include protection of the religious liberty of people of all faiths, so that each one of us can make personal medical and spiritual decisions without interference from politicians or clergy of other religions.
Advice on advocacy
Rabbi Dennis S. Ross will discuss and sign his new book, "All Politics Is Religious," at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany.