Protecting the Right to Vote RAC-TX, 2021 Campaign

Jewish Tradition Reforms Toward Voting

A summary, by Mark Greenspan (Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Shalom Oceanside Jewish Center)

Jewish tradition views government as a human partnership with God. Where Torah predicts that Israelites would want civil rulers instead of priests and prophets, Moses told the people: “[B]e sure to place over yourselves the king that God elects for you” (Deut. 17:14-15). The canon records that God chose the first king, Saul (1 Sam. 9:16-17). The second king, David, was chosen by God but confirmed by “all of Israel’s elders” (2 Sam. 5:3). The third king, his son Solomon, ruled in David’s bloodline but “all the people” together ratified his accession (1 Kings 1:39). Given this democratic shift, Rabbi Yitzchak opined that not even God could select rulers without consulting the people (B.T. Berachot 55a). By medieval days, when Jews elected tax collectors to remit Jewish taxes to Christian realms, Moses Isserles (1520-1572) held that all taxpayers were to assemble and vote “for the sake of heaven” (Rema on Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). Declining to vote means ignoring Torah’s notion of human partnership in the “heavenly” work of government. On the other hand, the Chatam Sofer (1762-1839) held that taxpayers who didn’t vote faced no compulsion: their only penalty was to forfeit rights to shape election outcomes.

Consult the Community When Choosing Leaders

אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק: אֵין מַעֲמִידִין פַּרְנָס עַל הַצִּבּוּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן נִמְלָכִים בַּצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״רְאוּ קָרָא ה׳ בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל״, אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: מֹשֶׁה, הָגוּן עָלֶיךָ בְּצַלְאֵל? אָמַר לוֹ: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אִם לְפָנֶיךָ הָגוּן — לְפָנַי לֹא כׇּל שֶׁכֵּן! אָמַר לוֹ: אַף עַל פִּי כֵן, לֵךְ אֱמוֹר לָהֶם. הָלַךְ וְאָמַר לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל: הָגוּן עֲלֵיכֶם בְּצַלְאֵל? אָמְרוּ לוֹ: אִם לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּלְפָנֶיךָ הוּא הָגוּן, לְפָנֵינוּ לֹא כׇּל שֶׁכֵּן!

With regard to Bezalel’s appointment, Rabbi Yitzḥak said: One may only appoint a leader over a community if one consults with the community and they agree to the appointment, as it is stated: “And Moses said unto the children of Israel: See, the Eternal has called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 35:30). The Eternal said to Moses: Moses, is Bezalel a suitable appointment in your eyes? Moses said to God: Master of the universe, if he is a suitable appointment in Your eyes, then all the more so in my eyes. The Holy One, Blessed be God, said to him: Nevertheless, go and tell Israel and ask their opinion. Moses went and said to Israel: Is Bezalel suitable in your eyes? They said to him: If he is suitable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be God, and in your eyes, all the more so he is suitable in our eyes.

Underlying Values: Care for the Communities in which We Live

ולכל מילי מי בעינן י"ב חדש והתניא שלשים יום לתמחוי שלשה חדשים לקופה ששה לכסות תשעה לקבורה שנים עשר לפסי העיר אמר ר' אסי אמר ר' יוחנן כי תנן נמי מתניתין שנים עשר חדש לפסי העיר תנן:

The Gemara asks: And do we require that one live in a city for twelve months for all matters? But isn’t it taught in a baraita: If one lives in city for thirty days, he must contribute to the charity platter from which food is distributed to the poor. If he lives there for three months, he must contribute to the charity box. If he lives there for six months, he must contribute to the clothing fund. If he lives there for nine months, he must contribute to the burial fund. If he lives there for twelve months, he must contribute to the columns of the city [lepassei ha’ir], i.e., for the construction of a security fence. Rabbi Asi said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: When we learned twelve months in the mishna, we learned that with regard to contributing to the columns of the city, money used for protecting and strengthening the city, but not for other matters.

Underlying Values: Participate in the Affairs of the Community

מַלְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, בְּמִשְׁפָּט שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֵׂה, מַעֲמִיד אֶת הָאָרֶץ... אִם מֵשִׂים אָדָם עַצְמוֹ כִּתְרוּמָה הַזּוּ שְׁמוּשְׁלֶכֵת בְּזָוִיוֹת הַבָּיִת וְאוֹמֵר: מָה לִי בְּטוֹרַח הַצִּבּוּר ?מָה לִי בְּדִינֵיהֶם? מָה לִי לִשְׁמוֹעַ קוֹלָם? שָׁלוֹם עָלֶיךָ נַפְשִׁי! הֲרֵי זֶה מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם.

Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim 2:1

If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, that person gives stability to the land... But if a person sits in their home and says to themselves, “What have the affairs of society to do with me?... Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!”—if one does this, they overthrow the world. [translation by Hazon]

Underlying Values: Voting to Resolve Community Matters

כל צרכי ציבור שאינן יכולין להשוות עצמן יש להושיב כל בע"ב הנותנים מס ויקבלו עליהם שכל אחד יאמר דעתו לשם שמים וילכו אחר הרוב

For any community matter on which they cannot find common ground, they should convene all taxpayers, and they should agree that each will voice his view altruistically, and they will follow the majority

Underlying Values: Our Actions Matter

תָּנֵי רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בַּר יוֹחָאי, מָשָׁל לִבְנֵי אָדָם שֶׁהָיוּ יוֹשְׁבִין בִּסְפִינָה נָטַל אֶחָד מֵהֶן מַקְדֵּחַ וְהִתְחִיל קוֹדֵחַ תַּחְתָּיו, אָמְרוּ לוֹ חֲבֵרָיו מַה אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב וְעוֹשֶׂה, אָמַר לָהֶם מָה אִכְפַּת לָכֶם לֹא תַחְתִּי אֲנִי קוֹדֵחַ, אָמְרוּ לוֹ שֶׁהַמַּיִם עוֹלִין וּמְצִיפִין עָלֵינוּ אֶת הַסְּפִינָה.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught a parable: Men were on a ship. One of them took a drill and started drilling underneath him. The others said to him: What are you sitting and doing?! He replied: What do you care. Is this not underneath my area that I am drilling?! They said to him: But the water will rise and flood us all on this ship.

Voting vs. Tefillin

Tale of the Chazon Ish

[Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (7 November 1878 – 24 October 1953), known by the name of his magnum opus, Chazon Ish, was a Belarusian born Orthodox rabbi who later became one of the leaders of Haredi Judaism in Israel, where he spent his final 20 years, from 1933 to 1953.]

On Election Day, the Chazon Ish met this same Jew in the street. “Did you vote yet?” inquired the Chazon Ish.

“No,” was the response.

“Why not?” persisted the Chazon Ish.

“I don’t have the three Israeli pounds to pay the poll tax,” was the answer.

The Chazon Ish would not give up. “Do you own a pair of tefillin?” he continued.

“Of course!” answered the Jew.

“Well, go and sell your pair of tefillin and use the funds to pay the poll tax so that you can go and vote,” said the Chazon Ish.

The Chazon Ish later explained to Rabbi Soroka that wearing tefillin is a mitzvah, but voting in the election is also a mitzvah.

“I’m not worried that this Jew will not put be putting on tefillin,”explained the Chazon Ish. “If need be, he’ll borrow a pair. I am afraid that he won’t perform this other mitzvah – voting in the election.”

Voting to Preserve Freedom and Democracy

For a more complete exploration of these and other texts, see this supplemental source sheet:

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, 1984

[March 3, 1895 – March 23, 1986) was an American Orthodox rabbi, scholar, and posek (authority on halakha—Jewish law), regarded by many as the de facto supreme halakhic authority for observant Jews in North America.]

On reaching the shores of the United States; Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov — recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which safeguards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.

Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.