I was sitting in front of the ark this past Shabbat and ruminating during a few moments of quiet prayer about the two flags that have framed my synagogue’s ark for as long as I can remember – the American flag on one side and the Israeli flag on the other. I love them both, but I asked myself, ‘Do they belong here in our Sanctuary, in our house of prayer?’ After all, they are national symbols and not religious ones.
I took a look at what has been written in Reform Responsa literature over the past 50 years since the question first was asked of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Responsa Committee about the appropriateness of placing flags in the sanctuary of our synagogues.
Essentially, the following is what I gleaned from a number of Responsa (links below):
“Though the flags are not religious symbols, they are symbols of our spiritual and emotional attachment to our country and to the State of Israel.”
“As citizens of the United States, the American flag represents some of our most sacred American ideals, our acceptance of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, and our devotion to the prophetic ideals of social justice and freedom.”
“The State of Israel is the political embodiment of the age-old Jewish dream of national redemption, a dream that Jews have expressed in our prayers for two millennia, and the Israeli flag represents the prayers of the Jewish people for a return to the land of Israel and the re-establishment there of our Jewish national life.”
So, yes! They do belong, in my opinion, and as a consequence of my ruminations last week, I feel that these flags in fact add something to the iconography of symbols that characterize our holy spaces.
Sources – Central Conference of American Rabbis Responsa
Hatikvah and The Star-Spangled Banner – https://web.archive.org/web/20170824182820/http://ccarnet.org/responsa/rr21-no-5758-10/
Israeli flag on a synagogue pulpit – https://web.archive.org/web/20170824183123/http://ccarnet.org/responsa/arr-66-68/
National flags at religious services LXIV(1954) 79-80 – https://web.archive.org/web/20170824183218/http://ccarnet.org/responsa/arr-64-66/