Advice from Our Sages: Get Out and Vote

“Mommy, if we didn’t live in the United States, where would we live?” my son asked me. His question came because his friends in school were talking about the current election. “Well, Israel.” I responded, but with a caveat: We aren’t going anywhere. While I have very strong opinions about this election, I believe it is incumbent upon us to work to strengthen and improve our society for all its citizens. If I don’t like the result of this presidential election, I believe it cowardice to turn tail and run. My ancestors didn’t survive the Cossacks in Russia, escaping to this country of empowered citizens with the ability to effect change, for me to abandon it in its time of need. And we are in great need.

The tenor of this election has made many of us sick. Adults acting like babies. Name calling. Spewing words of hate. How can I tell my own children they must be civil and accountable for their actions, when our leaders don’t do the same?

What I won’t do is join in the negativity, nor be overcome by despair. Each of us has a voice. Each citizen has a vote in order to make our voices heard.

Our sages offered the same advice. In many Jewish texts, we are taught about the importance of government and our obligation to care for it and ensure it does its job of providing for the social welfare of all its citizens. (Read more here).

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who immigrated to the United States in 1937, reminded us that the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights afford us the freedom to practice our religion in peace. He called on Jews to remember the principle of hakarat hatov, “recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent on each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.”

During the Civil Rights movement, Rabbi Joachim Prinz remarked, “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”

Don’t be silent.

I’ve already cast my vote. I’m fortunate to live in Ohio in which early voting is an option. I’ve canvassed in neighborhoods, encouraging others to do the same. I’ve brought my son with me as an example to him about the importance of this obligation.

Jewish wisdom calls for justice and compassion for every human being, and compels us to elect leaders who would do the same. Hillel and Shammai are held up as exemplars. These sages were known for their disputes, but are respected for the way in which they engaged in disagreements: with respect and integrity. They argued for the sake of Heaven, not for their own merit. They argued in an effort to understand God’s will and help others on a path towards improving themselves and bettering society. May our civil leaders do the same.

Voting is a privilege and a responsibility. We should not take it for granted. Get out and vote!

 

Rabbi Melinda Mersack is the Director of jHUB, which provides new ways for interfaith couples and families to comfortably explore Jewish culture in the modern world, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and an InterfaithFamily affiliate. Rabbi Mersack is proud to be a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow and a Brickner Fellow of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Mersack attends summer camp as visiting faculty every year, and is an advocate for interreligious dialogue and social justice. She holds a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Masters of Hebrew Letters and ordination from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.

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