The Rabbis Teach: Rock the Vote

By: Sarah Mack

It is hard to walk very far in Rhode Island right now without tripping over a lawn sign.  Or perhaps you have noticed your mail is filled with election-related information.  Or maybe your phone has been ringing with calls from political pollsters or community organizers.  Yup, it is very definitely election season in Rhode Island.

It can be tempting to think, “What does this really have to do with me? My vote won’t count. It doesn’t matter if I vote in the primary.”  Wrong.

Here are some words of wisdom from our tradition about our civic responsibilities.

Our prophets emphatically teach that we have a hand in bringing justice to our communities.

The rabbis take it one step further by reminding us that it is our responsibility to play an active role in our community and choose its leaders.

  • Hillel taught “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5).
  • Rabbi Yitzhak taught “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Rabbi Yitzhak then explains how God asked for Moses’ opinion on Bezalel’s fitness to build the Tabernacle and sends Moses out to poll the Israelites before appointing him to this important communal role.
  • Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, said, “A story is told that a Jew approached the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yishayahu Kareletz of B’nai Brak Israel) and informed him that he did not have the money to pay municipal taxes. At that time, one could not vote if [he] did not fulfill [his] civic financial obligations. The Chazon Ish directed this man to sell his t’fillin and pay his taxes. You can borrow t’fillin from someone else, the Chazon Ish explained, but the privilege to vote you cannot borrow from someone else. It seems clear from this, the Chazon Ish viewed voting as a mitzvah” (as told on the RAC website http://rac.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=22522&pge_prg_id=16067&pge_id=2404).

Our tradition is clear that to be a member of a community means to raise our voice in choosing leaders.  Although messy and at times painful, democracy is a gift that demands our participation.  It is the means at our disposal to build a more just society, to enact the words of Deut. 16:20 “Justice Justice you shall pursue.”  September 9th is not simply a primary election; it is a sacred opportunity to shape a better city, state and nation.

Resources:

As we do for many sacred obligations, here are some beautiful prayers and meditations before voting:

http://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/voting-prayer

http://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/meditation-or-prayer-going-vote

Not registered? It is too late for the September 9th primary but not for the general election!

http://www.elections.state.ri.us/voting/registration.php

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