Are we commanded to vote?

Position::ASK THE RABBIS: VOTING
 
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INDEPENDENT

Not necessarily commanded, but it was long ago suggested that we do what we can to contribute to the general welfare of the lands in which we sojourn. One could argue that voting may be a part of this contribution. The suggestion came to the prophet Jeremiah in a message from God, which he forwarded to our exiled ancestors following the destruction by the Babylonians of the First Jewish Commonwealth more than 2,400 years ago:

To all [those] I have exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat of their yield. Stair families, have children, and help your children stair families, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace of the village to which I have exiled you, and pray to God on her behalf, for in her state of peace shall you too find peace'" (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Walking Stick Foundation

Thousand Oaks, CA

HUMANIST

Let's start by pointing out how remarkable this question is, because it presumes that Jews are enfranchised to vote in the first place. We take this for granted now, but it wasn't always the case. In the original American colonies under British rule, the right to vote and the right to hold office were restricted to white, Protestant, landowning men. Over time, these restrictions were overturned--for Jews as well as for women and African Americans. Even now, a number of states, including Maryland and Mississippi, still prohibit any person who "denies die existence of a Supreme Being" from holding state office. This carve-out, if it could be enforced--and it probably can't--would effectively eliminate secular, non-believing Jews from running for election, perhaps even Bernie Sanders, who has said he believes in God, but not in a traditional manner: "I am what I am, and what I believe in, and what my spirituality is about, is that we're all in this together."

In a normal election year, a secularly inclined candidate like Sanders might pay at the polls for not being an ardent synagogue-goer. Since this is hardly a normal election year, another challenge arises: Many Republican voters, and presumably some Jews among them, are considering not voting at all. Are they, or we, commanded to vote? No. Should we take for granted the right to vote? No. Should we work to protect those voting rights and expand them for everyone? Absolutely!

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism

New York, NY

RENEWAL

Every Jew has a duty to vote in the democratic elections in one's nation of citizenship. Jewish law mandates the creation...

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