We are witnessing and living through a period in American History where America’s very identity may be shifting. November 8th will be a day where votes will be cast to determine the nature of America’s soul, to define not just where we want to go, but who we want to be.
There are many who have strong opinions for one or the other candidates of the two major parties, and there are certainly those who are intrigued by the third party candidates. But there are also those who say, “I don’t like any of them,” or “my voice doesn’t change anything and therefore doesn’t matter,” or “I have more important things to do on November 8th than cast my vote,” and the consequence to all three statements may be that one does not go and vote. No matter where we stand, let me be clear— abstaining from the electoral process is not permitted to us as Jews.
While the sages of old certainly did not live in a democracy such as America, nor did the prophets of the Tanakh, I am confident that if they lived today, they would establish as halakha (Jewish law) that a Jew is required to exercise his or her right to vote. Here’s why:
- Hillel taught, do not separate yourself from the community (Pirkei Avot 2:5). When one lives in society with others, they are required to be with others, to participate in that community. Participating means being part of, making your voice known, even if it is to agree with others.
- Rabbi Yitzhak taught that a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted (Talmud Berachot 55a). We know that in order for the community to be properly run, input must be sought from everyone. Your input matters so that our government can function properly.
- The prophet Jeremiah told us, upon our arrival into Babylonia, to seek the welfare of the city to where God has caused us to be (Jeremiah 29). The most effective way of seeking the best possible result for our surroundings in this democratic nation (even more effective than praying) is in casting our votes for the one who we think will bring the changes we seek. Tikkun Olam may include small and large acts that we can perform as a community to help those around us, but it also requires that we make our voices of justice and holiness known
to our leadership and decision-makers. Our divinely-mandated mission of completing this world as God’s partner requires that we take advantage of our democratic privilege and vote.
So where ought every Temple Emanu-El-ite be on November 8th? Either at the polls themselves, or working to help others get there.
Published in Temple Emanu-El’s November 2016 edition of Kolaynu.